Responding to Responsive Design

Why should your organization consider responsive web design? Learn the benefits and actionable steps that can make the move to responsive both more manageable and attainable.   

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Even if you're not exactly surewhat responsive web design is, if you've ever used a mobile or tablet device to access the Internet, you've probably experienced it. Over the last several years, there has been an explosion in the use of this technique to build websites that use one base of code and one base of content to present experiences that are optimized for the devices they are displayed on. Responsive design enables your website or application to render and function differently on a laptop, tablet and mobile phone using the same content, reducing content and brand management efforts for your business and providing engaging user experiences for your customers. 

Why Should My Organization Consider Responsive Web Design?

In this age of burgeoning smartphones and tablets, the value of responsive web design is increasing in proportion to the number of devices and sizes available, as well as the speed at which new devices are entering the market. According to Google Think Insights, the percentage of smartphone browsers being used to access websites has grown at a rate of 31%, and smartphone adoption has reached 61% in the US. These numbers highlight the fact that forcing users to struggle with pinching and zooming to view traditional websites on mobile devices is no longer acceptable. Your users want a mobile experience that will just work. Responsive web design is an excellent method of planning for this mobile growth trend and adapting to changing user behavior.

An additional benefit of responsive design, which is hidden to the user, is the ability to manage multiple digital experiences from a single interface rather than managing multiple digital properties for multiple devices. 

Moving the Mountain: Undertaking the Challenge of Making Your Website(s) Responsive 

For anyone working in an enterprise environment, the first reaction to the idea of going from a fixed width website to a responsive site is probably a feeling of excitement for the possibility of what your website will become, but there is also fear of the process that lies ahead. In most cases, the sheer number of web pages, templates, integrated applications and properties involved may make a responsive design approach seem out of reach. There is a lot of work involved in optimizing for each view of a website or application – more often than not, each template has to be redesigned and built from scratch to achieve the desired response for each view. Unfortunately, you can't just slap on some "responsive code" and expect everything to work “automagically.”

However, there's no need to despair. The act of "going responsive" is more of an evolution than a flip of the switch. The following principles can make the move to responsive both more manageable and attainable.

Make a Plan

Great tasks require great plans. When you take on a responsive redesign project, the complexity of the task requires a well-structured plan detailing the tactics to be completed and a corresponding schedule for each.

Plan Small, Achievable Steps

Look for bite-sized opportunities to implement a responsive approach - a microsite or autonomous section of the website is a good place to start. Once you become comfortable with your process and start to gain momentum, you can begin to take on more tasks and move to the more complex endeavors. 

Lean into Analytics

Data is your friend. Nothing can give you insight into where you should focus your efforts like the recorded actions of your users. While there are many factors that play into the strategic roadmap, it is important to look at how users interact with a site using their mobile devices. This can help you determine the areas in which you can provide the most value and get the greatest return on your investment. For example, if analytics show that smartphone users tend to access one area of your site and not another, you can use responsive design to prioritize the content you know is important to that audience.

The evolution to a responsive website can be achieved over time through a series of small, data-driven, well-planned steps.  But when you start to refactor individual sections of a site alone, it is important to put a lot of thought into maintaining a cohesive user experience to the greatest extent possible. 

Going to the Well: Acquiring Funding for the Move to Responsive

Another thing that comes to mind when evaluating responsive design is cost. The fact is, implementing responsive design can be a costly endeavor. Most organizations don't invest in a cause without a good case, so it's imperative to clearly articulate the strategic value and projected ROI of a responsive project when making a case for it internally. You must help guide the way individuals in your organization think about the website – it’s no longer a desktop tool with a mobile experience as an afterthought. It is a multifaceted tool that must work equally well for all device contexts.

Put Your Roadmap to Work

In many cases, it is difficult to obtain a lump sum of funding for a responsive project, but that shouldn't deter you from moving forward. You don't have to gain funding for your entire responsive project at once – you can seek funding in small, achievable steps. You've already created a responsive design project roadmap, now use it! Consider using the initial steps laid out in your roadmap to demonstrate value and gain buy-in for larger, more complex phases of the project.

Continue to Lean into Analytics

The same data that helps you focus your efforts can help you justify them. If you can identify areas of critical importance for multi-device access to guide your way, you can also use that information to gain organizational buy-in. With each step of your roadmap, you must define success metrics and show value based on those metrics. This is an excellent way to justify investment leading into each subsequent step of the roadmap.

Consider a Proof of Concept

You might consider creating a low-cost proof-of-concept for your initial pitch - sometimes people need something to interact with in order to be convinced. It doesn't have to be overly sophisticated, it just has to paint a clear picture of how responsive web design will make a difference in your business.

Getting the Most out of Your Responsive Site

When it comes to launching any website or application, the destination – and what comes after – is just as important as the journey. Customizing a site’s functional interface to a device context is a step in the right direction, but that alone falls short of the great potential offered with responsive design. We know that users often have different desires and needs across devices, and objectives are often very different depending on context. For example, someone accessing a website through a laptop might be at work, while someone using a tablet might be sitting on their couch, and someone using a smartphone might be standing in line at the grocery store. Each user has a different level of commitment. Tailoring responsive content to the user's device context is just as important as designing a responsive layout and interactions.

Ultimately, to get the most out of your responsive website, you must develop a "mobile first" content strategy that starts by defining the content that is appropriate for each device. When customizing content to the device context, the extra effort required is minimal but the return is great. A little extra time dedicated to critical thinking can result in delivering a digital experience that gives end users exactly what they want - no more, no less. 

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